When Magic Johnson was appointed President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, on one hand it was an absolute step forward to remove the moribund Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak regime, but on the other hand, the list of star NBA ball players who successfully transitioned to top caliber management or personnel executives can be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Though a fine player and great coach, there is no argument that Phil Jackson has failed miserably as the guy making personnel decision for the New York Knicks. And who in LA will forget the great play and awful executive career of Elgin Baylor? Sure, Magic was a great player, has been a success in the business world, and has that engaging personality, but he did fail as a coach and fail as a TV host. That sounds like he’s batting 50-50 and his history is thus no prognosticator of what might come next.
Rob Pelinka was a players’ agent and a successful one, but does that translate into becoming a successful General Manager? My first reaction is an absolute No as a general
rule, but hey, maybe this guy has something that could work. As do many top level agents, he is well educated, with both a law degree and a business degree, each earned from the University of Michigan.
Well, the two of them came in with their work cut out for them, and with plenty of room for world-class mistakes. The biggest single challenge that developed was what to do with the second pick in the 2017 NBA draft, once it landed in the Lakers’, and their, lap. Rumors abounded about possible trades, including one that could have well been one of those world-class errors, trading today’s assists and their value, for Paul George, when he is ready to run to them, for NOTHING in exchange, a year from now. The other rumors had the Lakers undertaking perhaps the single most stupid draft move in the history of the franchise, taking anyone other than Lonzo Ball with that pick. Anyone who has seen Lonzo play KNOWS his remarkable talents, how they are made for the NBA game, and how he has, baring injury, Magic-Kobe-Kareem-type stardom in his future. We Bruins and Lakers’ fans cringed day after day as reports of the Lakers by bypassing Lonzo for the likes of Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, and, heaven forbid, De’Aaron Fox based on one game between UCLA and Kentucky.
Sanity prevailed, and the Magic-Pelinka team made the choice that HAD to be made, selecting the future of the Lakers’, Lonzo, with the pick, and they also pulled off a couple of deals that look, for the most part, to be additional step-ups in talent for the 2017-2018 team. In an amazing deal with the Nets, Magic and Pelinka began their overhaul by unloading perhaps the worst current player contract in the league, that of Timofey Mozgov, packaged with D’Angelo Russell, whose choice by the team as the 2015 number two picked should have been a loud and clear message as to what could go wrong, for a real NBA-caliber center in LA-area native and Stanford grad Brook Lopez, who at 29 has a few good years left as likely future starter Ivica Zubac learns and develops. The Lakers also received in the deal the 27th pick in the draft, actually Boston’s pick that the Nets had previously acquired, and the Lakers used it to select University of Utah forward Kyle Kozma, a talented offensive player and rebounder who should provide a punch from off the bench.
The third move made by the Magic-Pelinka brain trust will take some playing time to sort out, but could prove also to be a solid move for the franchise moving forward. The team selected North Carolina center Tony Bradley with the 28th pick in the draft, and traded Bradley to Utah for the rights to the 30th pick, guard Josh Hart, and the 42d pick, Thomas
Bryant. Hart is a shooting guard from Villanova, and in that a very rare breed in the 21st century, a guy who played all four years in college while being talented enough to become an NBA first round draft pick. Hart should provide depth to the Lakers’ backcourt with scoring, rebounding and solid defense. He can fill in at point guard as needed, and he brings winning experience from his school’s 2016 NCAA National Championship. The 6” 11” Bryant, from Indiana, conceivably could be a four-five backup in the NBA, but he is neither a good defender nor rebounder and in that type of slot his shooting ability may or may not be enough to earn him a roster spot. Also, the thought was that he may or may not have even been a 2017 draft pick. With Lopez, Zubac and Tarik Black at the center spot and Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Thomas Robinson and perhaps Kozma at times at power forward, his future as a member of the Lakers’ is very suspect.
No critique of the Lakers can be complete without also mentioning that, however it came about, the the team is immediately improved by the fact that former trojan scum nick young is GONE, NOW AND FOREVER. The self-centered, shoot or else piece of garbage polluted LA courts for years, and it is a mitzvah that he has departed.
All in all, it looks like an excellent start for the Lakers’ new brain trust and as a fan who has written seemingly for far too many seasons about Lakers’ mistakes and missed opportunities, its great to see good things finally happening.